When President Barack Obama announced his intent to impose unilateral gun control measures through executive fiat, Republicans loaded for bear—or at least, aggressive overreach from a lame duck president.

The president announced his actions in a tearful meeting where he blasted Congress, the gun lobby and, yet again, made the ambiguous call for “commonsense” gun-control reforms.

That certainly left gun owners and supportive politicians ready to dig in for a fight. Count me in that number. The Second Amendment is a right, not an inconvenient suggestion from a time gone by. 

But then the president explained his plan and things just got weird. 

His proposals amounted to hiring more FBI agents, spending that requires congressional action and essentially enforcing existing law. The main area for heartburn is the president’s interest in trying to redefine someone “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. But even that action comes in the form of a nonbinding guidance letter.

Keep in mind that this is the same president whose administration elected to rewrite immigration law unilaterally and create an aggressive regulatory scheme to cut carbon emissions. There’s a reason this president has lost roughly half his cases before the Supreme Court and it has a lot to do with his aggressive interpretation of executive-branch authority.

Conservatives have ample reason to be skeptical about the president’s support of the Second Amendment. More importantly, the president’s executive actions and rule-making power should be checked. That’s an important feature of our federal government.  

If there is a real constitutional battle brewing over President Obama’s most recent gun proposals, I must have missed it.  

As it turns out, his feared “gun grab” was basically a political dog and pony show where President Obama wanted to let the nation know he’s “doing something.” The whole ordeal was high on emotion and short on substance.

The president should enforce existing gun laws, particularly keeping firearms out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill. That’s his job. He’s also made spending proposals to Congress every year he’s been in office, another one of his responsibilities. Republicans aren’t required to agree with his spending preferences, so there’s nothing coercive about them.

Republicans should be more concerned about the dangers of crying wolf than the president requiring a report on gun-safety technology. If the president and gun-control advocates really do intend to restrain lawful gun ownership, conservatives would be wise to save their shots for real policy targets.

Of course it’s politically expedient for most Republicans to ignore what the president actually proposed and rattle their gun barrels in a general display of defiance. Unfortunately, that practice limits our ability to make any progress on fairly reasonable policy improvements.

We do need to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). We should make it more accurate and useful, while ensuring that outdated or incorrect information can be removed efficiently. We might even find a way to give NICS access to gun owners wanting to make responsible private sales. Those conversations are a far cry from trying to take away the guns of lawful gun owners. 

The awkward truth about the president’s “tough” actions on guns is that they didn’t amount to much of anything and neither did the ensuing Republican shadow boxing.

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